Sunday, February 16, 2014

Berowne's 207

 
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "F" is for "film")

The prompt this week reminded me of a different apartment...

Gertrude Stein’s birthday was this month, so I thought I’d take a brief pause in my quiz-of-the-week contest and reprint one of my old posts about her.

Today I got to thinking of Paris, thinking back to the time, a few decades ago, when I was making films in France.

It was hard, arduous, tough work, traveling first-class (paid for by the films' budgets), eating insatiably almost every day at Michelin 3-star restaurants, staying in the best hotels; I don't know how I lived through it.

One of my documentaries had to do with the American expatriates, that time back in the 1920s when Yankee writers sort of inevitably wound up in Paris.  Since the franc was weak and the dollar was strong, it was the ideal spot for any feral American artist.

One of the places I wanted in the film was Gertrude Stein’s apartment.

Her home had been a place of pilgrimage for so many young writers.  You could make the case – oh, you’d get arguments – but you could make the case that this is where modern American literature began, because Gertrude Stein attracted the greatest writers of that time: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, among others.

They had told me that I probably couldn’t get in to the apartment; it wasn’t open to the public.  But I was able to get a few strings pulled at the French Government Tourist Office and I was ultimately allowed entrance into the famous home of Gertrude Stein.

 

As I walked about the place I remembered seeing pictures of it as it had once been when, much earlier, the walls were covered by avant-garde paintings as Stein discussed art with guys most people then had never heard of, young chaps named Picasso, Braque and Matisse.

It was said of Gertrude in the early years: “She knew where art was going.” 

As for the American writers, what attracted them?  Well, she was a sort of literary guru.  As a writer, she was often difficult to understand – some couldn't understand a shred of it - so she certainly wasn’t much as an author of best-sellers, but her gift was for analysis and criticism.  To many her judgment in literature was infallible.


When he met Stein, young Ernest Hemingway realized he had found a guide, even a tutor, and he took what she had to say very seriously.  He thought so much of her he asked her to be the godmother of his child.

Ernest listened and learned; what he learned became the famous Hemingway style that influenced the narrative and dialogue of a couple of generations of novelists.


When Ernest, age 22, came to her apartment he would sit by the fire as Gertrude spoke to him about writing.  He paid her a great compliment: “Writing used to be easy before I met you.”

Years later, when he became Papa Hemingway and very successful, when he became a legend in his own lifetime, he would downplay Stein’s influence on his writing.  But decades earlier he had felt differently: “Ezra (Pound) was right half the time,” he wrote, “and when he was wrong you were never in any doubt of it.  Gertrude was always right.”

When you shot a film in those days, a small crowd would always gather.  Among the people watching while I worked in the courtyard of Stein’s apartment building was an elderly lady who seemed to be very interested in all that was going on.  I spoke to her and was surprised to learn that she had been Gertrude Stein’s concierge, going all the way back to the old days.  This was quite a shock.

I was actually speaking with someone who had known them all as young people – Picasso, Braque, Matisse, as well as the American expats Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and the rest.  She assured me that they had not only been friends of Miss Stein, but her friends too.

 

30 comments:

Other Mary said...

What a remarkable post, and a remarkable life. Thank you B.

Kathe W. said...

What a fascinating post- I always learn so much from you....it was a magical time in Paris. And to meet that old woman who had observed those days through her concierge eyes....wow.

humbird said...

Wow, the whole world in your story...~ Now I feel almost as if have been seeing all these legends by myself. ~ Bravo, Berowne! :)

Lynette said...

I would never have thought to pull Gertrude Stein from this prompt, but you did it beautifully. What an inspiration she was to so many of the greats. Thank you.

SK Waller said...

I love this! What writer doesn't wish he or she could travel back in time to expat Paris? To sit in Gertrude Stein's salon, to drink in Henry Miller's favorite cafe, to read in Adrienne Monnier's lending library and Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare & Co.

How fortunate you were not only to gain access to Stein's apartment, but to meet the woman who saw so many soon-to-be greats come and go!

Berowne said...

What great comments; thanks, friends.

Truedessa said...

This was really an interesting post and I imagine it might feel a bit magical to visit her place. Thanks for sharing.

Susan Lindquist said...

Oh to be a fly on the wall during those days!

Roger Owen Green said...

And still, this reminded me of a film, of course, Midnight in Paris, directed by Woody Allen.

Strummed Words said...

Love that photo of the young Hemingway!

Helen said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this! Thank you so much for the encore.

Berowne said...

And I thank you for the kind words...

Lydia said...

This is one of my favorite blog posts. Ever! That is the time I would have most loved to live, and for you to have actually touched the hems of that garment of wonderful history is truly sublime! Oh, this will carry me through my day. And I may tonight read some passages from one of my favorite books about that time/those people: That Summer in Paris, by Morley Callaghan. sigh.

kaykuala said...

Your posting invariably creates that feeling of fulfillment on others. One gets an insight to the inner circles of known and famous literary giants. And these are not found anywhere else but from your treasure trove. Thanks for sharing, Berowne!

Hank

Kutamun said...

Who was it that said " i cant remember all the books i have read, but they have made me, nonetheless".... Thanks for taking the time to share your life experiences, Berowne

Berowne said...

Lydia: "Oh, this will carry me through my day."
Speaking of carrying one through days, this collection of wonderful comments has certainly done that for me. My thanks again.

Roy Schulze said...

Maybe it's a fluke of Internet geography, but you and I often seem to battling for the first slot on ABC Wednesday. Today I won, not once but twice, because winning compelled me to read your fascinating F story, and a great read it was.

Leslie: said...

Fascinating! I can tell the experience made a great impact on you and thank you for sharing it with us here.

Leslie
abcw team

Tess Kincaid said...

I am so envious...fascinating post Mr. B...thank you...

Hildred said...

This is such a great post, Berowne. Thank you for sharing your own wonderful experiences and your knowledge of what went on in the Paris of those most creative days.

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

This is a fascinating glimpse into a past that was peopled with literary greats. I especially like your including what Hemingway said to Gertrude Stein: "Writing used to be easy until I met you."

Jae Rose said...

She is a formidable and fine woman to remember..

Sheilagh Lee said...

Wow an stimulating view of the past.You have led such an interesting life.

oldegg said...

Who can say they are disappointed in there being no quiz this week when you have given us something else so beautiful and uplifting instead.

Berowne said...

As one old egg to another, my thanks indeed for a great comment.

The Blog of Bee said...

Great comments? How they could they not be when this is more than a 'great' read. Fascinating,intriguing, compelling and absolutely splendid. Thank you!

Little Nell said...

I always think it must be wonderful to have met someone who was even remotely connected to an important figure; so much to fire the imagination - as did this post.

ms pie said...

to think of sitting around enjoying a glass of wine and chatting about stories and writing..... simply a haven of heavenly thoughts.... i've read about her before but now im gonna hafta go to the library and check her out again.... it must have been awesome to talk to the lady and get her point of view as she was there....

sharplittlepencil@gmail.com said...

Gertrude Stein's portrait (on a postcard!) is always in my office. I recently read "Everyone's Autobiography," and, while much is hard to decipher, it, along with Alice B. Toklas, contain so many stories about Fitzgerald, Picasso, and the like. Her "salons" were THE place to be... as for Fitzgerald, his misogyny must have caught up with him to deny Stein credit...

I just signed up to get your blog! I'm back now AGAIN... this time, a pulled muscle in my arm. Oy! Amy

Berowne said...

I've told you, many times, stop pulling that muscle in your arm. :-) Welcome back, Amie!

 
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